Sharp X1 Floppy Drives

This has been an active week for my X1 systems. First, I picked up a set of two external floppy drives. There was a disk stuck in one of them, and it wouldn’t come out by conventional methods. Upon opening it, I saw that drive head was in the down position and wouldn’t come up either by the drive lever or gentle force. So I began the very technical task of poking my finger at various things, and eventually found whatever it was waiting for and it sprang back up.

After closing the drive back up, I found the jumpers (on the bottom of the drive, but semi-conveniently accessible through a special compartment under the enclosure) and set the IDs to 1 and 2 so I could connect them to my X1 D with single floppy drive. First I tried the until-recently embattled drive, by using the excavated disk. Boom, BASIC loaded. Sweet! The second drive also worked without issue.

A few days later, I got another X1 D. That one had two floppy drives, but my own X1 D was in (slightly) better condition. I removed one of the drives and placed it in my own X1 D so now I have a dual-drive system. Beauty! I used the dual-drive setup to copy the system disk, which of course can be done on a single-drive system, but goes much smoother and faster with two. I may never actually use the second drive again, though.

Getting back to the external drives, I was having a conversation with the seller through Yahoo’s transaction messaging system. I told him that the drives worked great and he told me he had some extra copied disks that were used with the system, and that he would send them to me free of charge if I wanted them. Sure! This was quite a few more than I bargained for, though, I think there must be about 100! Might have to find a discrete way to offload some of them to someone else who may use them.

I also finalized (for now!) the location of the external drives. They are on my X1 Turbo Z, which has the internal drives disabled so I can use my HxC. Re-enabling them requires opening up the system each time, so I don’t change often. But now with these external drives, it’s a breeze!

I set the IDs of the external drives back to 0 and 1. Drive 0 is connected to the system, and drive 1 is connected to the rear of drive 0. The HxC is also set to units 0 and 1, and it is connected to the rear of drive 1. When powered off, the external drives still pass through to the HxC, so I don’t have to futz with the IDs. If I power on the external drives, though, it will obviously cause a conflict, so if I want to use them, the only thing I have to do is unplug the USB power to the HxC. This is sooo slick, even better than I’d imagined!

The photo came out a little dark, but if you look carefully near the bottom, you’ll see the two external drives under the FM-8, with the HxC drive emulator sitting between them.

The only shortcoming is that the internal drives are 2HD/2DD while the external ones are 2DD only. But I think all of the logic is controlled by the internal controller, so I someday may try putting the 2HD drives into the external enclosures.

FM Towns Memory Upgrade

I’d been watching with mild annoyance as this guy dropped his price 100 yen per day for a couple of months to keep his items at the top of the search list in Mercari (or whatever reason he had). It was kind of annoying because the machine itself is pretty banged up, and with a starting price of 20000 yen, it seemed like it would take forever to finally sell so I wouldn’t have to look at the listing anymore.

Then a couple of days ago, when it hit around 15000 yen, he started dropping it by 500 yen per day. Cool! It’ll be sold soon, I thought.

And today it sold! To me. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I felt compelled to look a little more closely today. I noticed that it was fully-populated with RAM and despite being a first-gen Towns, it has a 486 CPU. I sent him an offer of 11000 and he accepted. Not a super bargain, I suppose, but finding RAM that is ready to go with an FM Towns has been pretty elusive, and I haven’t even been able to find much in terms of 1 or 2MB sticks that I could get converted to work with Towns, so I thought perhaps this could be my opportunity. I didn’t know the size of the RAM sticks, but even if they were all 1MB, that would still be 2.5x more than my current 2MB. It arrived today.

A little scuffed, but not nearly as bad as I’d imagined based on the images from the Mercari listing.

The mystery RAM was three SIMMs totaling 5MB, so when I put it into my main Towns system, I came to the grand sum of 7MB, 3.5x more than my original configuration. Despite the non-matched pairs (there is 2MB on-board RAM, and slot 0 is 1MB, slot 1 and 2 have 2MB each), everything worked nicely together.

At first I thought the extra memory was making it boot faster from the hard drive, but that’s either not true or only maybe one or two seconds of improvement.

But there are definitely some benefits. The most obvious is that I can now do things that I wasn’t able to do before.

Starting with the OS, using 2.1 L51, I was unable to use quite a few applications that were built into the OS with my default 2MB. Most noteworthy, I can now use the Paint/Lite and text editor applications (no, I wasn’t able to launch the text editor with 2MB!). A handful of other applications that I couldn’t open before now open correctly, too, but fail along the way because I either lack equipment (telopper) or need some other media (Oasys). But anyway, whereas 2.1 definitely seemed beyond my system’s abilities before, now it seems comfortable.

And the biggest win, I can now play a couple of games that I couldn’t before: Super Street Fighter II and SimCity 2000. But just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean you *should*. SSF2 works pretty well, despite using only my 386. SC2K, on the other hand, is sooo laggy, and in addition to that, it throws up video glitches frequently (but the glitches are always the same) and I would venture to say the music isn’t playing correctly, although I don’t know for sure what it’s *supposed* to sound like. But I could play it enough to make a small beginning of a city.

There are also a couple more subtle wins that I noticed. The game that I play most, Amaranth 3, doesn’t seem to care, but King’s Quest V uses the extra memory to save more screen data. While the stock 2MB can only store about 4 or 5 screens of data before it has to go back to loading from CD, with 7MB I could walk freely through the whole initial area (about 12 screens) without accessing the CD, and potentially more.

And my Towns OS experience has become much more multi-taking (at least it feels that way, in the way Windows 3.1 also felt multi-tasking). I can load several applications at the same time and slip in and out between the apps and the OS, whereas with 2MB it would close down the launcher interface to start the selected app and when I closed that app it would restart the launcher.

RAM/ROM Expander

One cool and useful item that came with my NEC PC-6001 is this RAM/ROM expansion cartridge. It plugs into the side of the 6001 and doubles the memory to 32KB, and it also has two ZIF sockets for ROM expansion.

At this point, I’m not sure what can be done with the ROM expansion but I hope to find out more someday. As for the RAM, many tape games require it, so it seems like something of a must-have expansion for this system.